Sunday, 5 April 2015
Feeling Bad about Feeling Good
I've been wondering what kind of person I am, examining self critically my response to Louise's death and the way in which I am mourning. In the last few days I have generally been calmer. There have been moments in each day when I have keenly felt Louise's loss and the tears have flowed. Just seeing a couple kissing in the street was enough to cause me to break down, there and then, prompting me to rush for the nearest cover to hide my tears from passers by. But outside of these moments I am relatively emotionally stable.
Its not as if I'm not thinking about Louise the rest of the time, that somehow everything is magically better. Louise remains on my mind almost the entire day and the vast majority of my waking time is still spent talking, thinking and writing about her. This makes me sad and wistful but often without a great deal of raw distress and high emotion. I am functioning relatively normally other than for the lethargy which continues to weigh me down. Increasingly I find myself slightly puzzled by the shock and sympathy expressed by those who I talk to for the first time since Louise's death. I find it difficult to understand why it is warranted.
So why is this? I spend hours online reading about others experience of bereavement, absorbed in a small community unseen by the rest of the world which is brought together by the commonality of loss and grief. I know that comparisons between individuals are unhelpful, that no sure timeline can be plotted through the stages of bereavement, that our ability to cope fluctuates wildly from day to day and week to week. But I can't help wondering why at this particular point, ten weeks on, many people seem to be experiencing emotions much more sharply than I am.
Objectively I should be pleased, congratulating myself on my resilience and relieved that I am not experiencing worse. But it actually troubles me greatly. I actively want to grieve, need to grieve, in order to demonstrate to Louise the genuine depth of my love for her and the extent to which I feel her loss. I worry that if I do not she might mistake my apparent ability to cope with day to day life with indifference towards her, lack of love and concern. That is why I find myself worrying about the first day when no tears come and am almost relieved whenever I cry. While I do not want to feel miserable, I want to see a way to a future where things seem brighter, equally I do not want to allow myself to let go of the acute sense of loss and grief. It continues to bind me to Louise as strongly as we were connected in life. It is a precious emotional link which I do not want severed.
On one level I know that this is all irrational. That Louise, always an extremely acute observer of human nature, would understand better than most that grief is not measured by tears alone, and that textbook responses to bereavement are not the only proof of love. She has no wish to see me suffer and would be delighted if I adjusted rapidly to her loss and was able to achieve some kind of equilibrium. I know too that my emotional ties to Louise will always remain, as time goes by they will simply be reframed in more positive terms. Grief and tears were not what brought us together as a couple or held us together and I will eventually find new and more appropriate ways of connecting with her memory.
But despite this insight I can't help myself thinking critically about the way I sometimes feel and behave. It is impossible not to feel guilty and ashamed about every moment when I seem to find myself able to live life without Louise.
In those moments when I feel as though I am coping well, I ask myself if I am unfeeling, that I don’t care? That I didn’t really love Louise? That everything I have said and done about her has been false testimony, perhaps unconsciously designed to meet societal expectations of the bereaved partner? Even at my most self critical I can see that is utterly absurd. So why the discrepancy? Is it because those people I measure myself against are atypical in their own emotional responses? That seems highly unlikely. Is it because I’m unusually strong and resilient? People sometimes tell me that I am remarkably strong but this makes me feel a fraud. They don't see me when the front door closes and I break down. I don't feel strong then.
I think that there are two explanations. The first is that I have normalised the experience of the past ten weeks in order to better cope with it. It happened, its part of my reality so I know no different now. Doesn't everybody find their partner dead in such circumstances after only a relatively short time together? I genuinely find it difficult to understand how it can be when I meet a couple who have been together for 20 years (20 whole years together!) or I come across a husband whose wife is much beyond the age of 40 - surely they are incredibly lucky, they are the exceptions, not Louise and I. Nobody sees themselves as being outside the normal experience, or a vulnerable victim of tragedy. Its not a nice place to be. Surrounding myself with people who have experienced similar loss and at a similar age also helps to reinforce the comforting impression in my mind that these things are not so unusual. This accounts for my inability to grasp why people are shocked at events.
But the biggest truth is simply that I cannot absorb what has happened. Either that Louise has died or the way that she died. Whenever I think back to that night, the moments spent frantically trying to get into the house, entering through the conservatory just knowing for certain that I was going to see Louise hanging from the bannisters and trying to steel myself for the sight, and the desperate sometimes hysterical time afterwards with the paramedics and Police, it all seems utterly unreal. I can recall every moment but almost as if it were an out of body experience, or as if I was watching it all on video. It just didn’t really happen to me. And neither have the past 10 weeks. The self protective layer of disbelief is still as strong as ever and it is only when it is pierced that the sheer enormity and tragedy of what has happened hits me.
I know that I keep returning to this theme but it is the most consistent of my experience of bereavement. I still struggle to grasp that somebody so close to me, so full of life, can be dead. How can it be when I see Louise's face looking back at me so alive and happy in photos every day, when her glasses are still on the kitchen worktop, when her clothes are still folded on the back of the chair in our bedroom, when her mobile phone is still next to the stereo unit, when notes in her handwriting are still stuck to the fridge door? Death happens to the old, the physically ill, the victims of disasters and wars overseas. To others. Not to my Louise. The transition from one state to another, from life to death, may take an instant but it seems as if for those left behind it takes a whole lifetime to understand. Ten weeks on I am still numbed. If I could really grasp that I will never see Louise again I would be in pieces all the time. Even as I write this I am unable to get my head around the concept. Its not that I am in denial. I can accept what has happened on a theoretical level. Its simply that I am unable to comprehend the consequences.
When I wrote this post last night I was feeling strong and resilient and guilty for doing so. But today, ironically, I woke up in a completely different place. Scared, lonely, tearful, exhausted. Its a lovely sunny Easter Sunday and in normal circumstances we would have been out visiting family or friends or doing something together outdoors. Loving life and each other. Instead I have found it difficult even to get out of bed, paralysed by my grief. I certainly have no reason today to worry about doing 'too well'. It illustrates the unpredictable, apparently arbitrary way in which these moods can sweep across me, often catching me unawares.
Both the ups and the downs are equally authentic responses to the position I find myself in. Opposite but freely interchangeable. And they both lead me to question myself. I wrote above that it is impossible not to feel guilty and ashamed about every moment when I seem to find myself able to live life without Louise. That is true. But then I feel equally guilty and ashamed when my distress and emotion catches up with me to the extent that it disables me. I worry about what Louise would think of me then too. But in this case its because I fear she would be sad at my weakness rather than my strength. It seems as though my over active mind won't let me have any peace at present.